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FCHS instructor named DoDEA’s Southeast District Teacher of the Year

by Mari-Alice Jasper, Courier staff

The Fort Campbell Courier
Fort Campbell | February 16, 2017

Fort Campbell High School students, faculty and staff crowded into the school’s common area Feb. 9 and gave Kenneth Jankowski, FCHS teacher, a standing ovation.

Gary Gerstner, community superintendent of Department of Defense Education Activity Schools for the Southeast District, announced that Jankowski was selected as the DoDEA Americas – Southeast District Teacher of the Year.

Jankowski, surprised by the accolade, said he was proud to represent Fort Campbell.

“I guess I’m still processing what just happened,” he said. “I am honored beyond belief to be able to carry the flag for Fort Campbell through this process and whatever comes next.”

Jankowski has been teaching high school students for more than 20 years. He has been teaching at FCHS since the fall of 2009. At FCHS he teaches Model United Nations and German. He has also served as FCHS athletic director and girls’ basketball coach.

To qualify for District Teacher of the year, applicants must complete a rigorous process that includes submitting a resume, professional biography and three essays about educational topics. The highest ranking applicants then progressed to a panel interview.

Christy Huddleston, southeast district superintendent for DoDEA Americas, said Jankowski competed with applicants from eight installations in the Southeast District including Fort Rucker, Alabama, and Fort Benning and Fort Stewart, both in Georgia.

“Out of all the nominees from all of those installations, he was selected to represent the Southeast District,” Huddleston said. “He didn’t just compete locally, he competed against a large number of teachers who were nominated. He’s the cream of the crop and we are happy to have him as our representation.” As the ceremony drew to a close, a horde of students surrounded Jankowski, offering him high fives and congratulatory hugs. Huddleston said the students nominated him for this competition.

“When students nominate teachers, you really know and understand the students respect them,” she said. “[Jankowski] impacts their lives and makes a difference educationally, emotionally and socially. Those are the things that are life changing.”

Gerstner said he was impressed that Jankowski was nominated by his students.

“It’s always good when we recognize people who are doing well,” Gerstner said. “In this case, it wasn’t just supervisors or a parent, [who nominated Jankowski], these were the kids who he actually works with every day. That’s a significant difference. When kids stand up and speak for a teacher … there really isn’t any higher praise.”

Led by FCHS sophomore Noah Sylvia, more than 25 students submitted nomination forms for Jankowski.

“Frankly – I lost more copies of the nomination form I turned in, but I just kept printing them off for students who wanted to fill them out,” Sylvia said.

Teachers are usually nominated for Teacher of the Year by other teachers or supervisors, but this year the students wanted to voice their opinion, Sylvia said.

“When [Jankowski] found out about it he was all embarrassed because he never likes the attention to be on himself. He’s too humble,” Sylvia said.

Jankowsi’s humility, kindness and respect are all characteristics that inspired Sylvia to nominate him for Teacher of the Year.

“He really respects all of the students,” he said. “He teaches us like we are adults … like mature students. It’s really nice to have a teacher who treats you like that. He expects us to be honest with him. He’s the kind of teacher that if he said he was disappointed in a student, it would crush them. His opinion matters so much to all of us.”

Chloe Sims, senior class vice president, said the mutual respect between she and Jankowski is what motivated her to take his Model United Nation’s class for a second year.

“It’s hard to put into words who [Jankowski] is,” she said. “He’s genuine and he’s honest with us. He challenges us and makes us feel like we are important and valued, even though we are young. He reminds us that what we do is going to make a difference in the world. He’s just great.”

Sims said his never-ending support and encouragement for his students also sets Jankowski apart from other teachers she has had throughout her academic career.

“The amount of time and effort that he puts into making sure each students feels confident in themselves and their ability to do well is such a big deal for young people,” she said. “Mr. Jankowski has so much faith in every single one of his students. You can just tell he loves us all.”

Jankowski’s relationship with his students strongly influences the learning that takes place in his classroom, Gerstner said.

“It’s not a stilted kind of class where the students are in rows of desks and the teacher is in charge,” he said, “His is an interactive and engaging class. It’s an experience in his class when he teaches.”

In the front office after the ceremony, Jankowski posed, as his wife, Lori took a photo for him to send to his mother.

“All I can truly say is that this is so humbling,” he said. “We as educators have such a chance to make this difference in the lives of these kids every single day, but a lot of times they can make the difference in our days, too. For this to come from my actual, current students is just mind blowing.”

To compete for DoDEA Teacher of the year, Jankowski will be required to complete an application, record videos of his teaching strategies and sit for a paneled interview.

“Now it’s time for [Jankowski] to dig in and prepare for the upcoming competition,” Huddleston said. “He has a lot of hard work ahead of him, but I have no doubt in my mind he will put his best foot forward.”

Still in shock, Jankowski laughed at how much the students and faculty had surprised him.

“They got me good and I’m not easy to surprise,” he said. “I had no idea what was going on. I can’t believe all of this was about me. It was surreal.”

Throughout the application process, Jankowski has insisted on crediting his students for his success, but Sylvia said this honor is all about Jankowski.

“Make it a big spread in the newspaper, he deserves it,” Sylvia said. “[Jankowski] will always say it’s not about him, but this is about him. Don’t let him tell you any different.”

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